By Peter Bearder
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 319

Unlikely partners

This article is over 14 years, 2 months old
The peculiar marriage between Hugo Chavez and Bush's man in the Americas - President Uribe of Colombia - has onlookers scratching their heads.
Issue 319

The once tense relationship seems now to be blossoming with the unprecedented courting of Chavez as a mediator for the Colombian armed conflict, and now the energy cooperation between the two countries is far from the Bolivarian principles of grassroots revolution.

On Chavez’s recent visit to Bogota, one of the five items on the agenda was the binational gas pipeline. The Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela Sociedad Anonima (PDVSA), is pushing ahead with the construction of an 89-kilometre gas pipeline that cuts into the Colombian desert peninsular of La Guajira and affects 62 indigenous settlements. The results on the ground have not been harmonious.

Displacement and environmental destruction at the hands of mega-projects is a burning issue for Colombia’s 3.5 million internally displaced people. Central to the problem is the expropriation of resources by transnational capital.

The long suffering Wayuu indigenous communities affected by this pipeline see little difference between the “Bolivarian” oil giant and the countless other enterprises with an interest in their territory.

The pipeline has knocked down everything in its path-houses, trees and wells. In the village of Machetsumaana the pipeline passed directly by the school and houses, destroying the vital scarce vegetation which feeds the goats.

Children, like livestock, came down with stomach infections and diarrhoea from the machine fumes and dust generated by construction. In the cemetery – the most sacred of places in Wayuu territory – graves can be found split in two by trees that were bulldozed in the pipeline’s path. Since construction started in February, communities have been protesting using blockades – the political tool of the desperate and the disenfranchised.

The company representatives promised many things in Machetsumaana: infrastructure, bridges, fences, tools for artisan work and even a water-extracting windmill. What the community has received is quite different.

I was taken to photograph houses that are only half-built, and remain merely wooden frames after months. In the words of village elder Nikanor Bonivento Pushaina: “They came, they lied and they left.” It seems inconceivable that PDVSA, which presides over the world’s fourth largest oil output, cannot fulfil its promised handouts.

To his credit, Chavez has blocked some major coal concessions on environmental grounds and he enjoys greater indigenous support than his Colombian counterpart. Yet the indigenous people of Venezuela’s Zulia province continue to suffer and have lost tens of thousands of hectares.

Zulia is seeing the rapid development of super-infrastructure projects geared to exporting hydrocarbons. This is part financed by IMF capital, the World Bank and even oil giants Chevron and Texaco. Among the many alarming projects is another pipeline stretching to the Pacific coast of Colombia to supply the lucrative Chinese energy market. Yet critics, such as prominent Venezuelan ecologist Lusbi Portillo, attack these measures for linking up to US imperial energy infrastructure projects such as Plan Pueblo Panama.

The Bolivarian Revolution is based on the principles of Latin American integration and self-sufficiency. Yet the integration we are seeing here is not social or cultural but commercial. Can revolutionary change in Latin America really be built on carbon and mega projects?

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